Edwards' Health Chief Causing Unease For Anti-Abortion Group

BATON ROUGE (AP) — A Louisiana anti-abortion group raised concerns Thursday about Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards' choice for state health secretary, saying Rebekah Gee "has troubling connections" to abortion rights organizations.

         Edwards, a Democrat who ran as an anti-abortion candidate, named Gee this week to lead the Department of Health and Hospitals. The health secretary oversees regulation of Louisiana's abortion clinics, a position that has been used by outgoing Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration to tighten restrictions on the facilities.

         "Our research raises concerns that pro-life protections could be in jeopardy under Dr. Gee's supervision," Benjamin Clapper, executive of Louisiana Right to Life, said in a statement.

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         Louisiana Right to Life said it found that Gee made a speech at a "Pro-Choice Massachusetts" annual meeting, received an award from an abortion rights group and has ties to Planned Parenthood, including work on an emergency contraception lawsuit.

         Clapper said Louisiana Right to Life is concerned that Edwards "named a health secretary for Louisiana incompatible with his own pro-life values and those of our Legislature and our citizens." He also questioned whether Edwards "had full information" when he hired her.

         A request for comment from Gee, an obstetrician who most recently worked as medical director for Louisiana's Medicaid program, wasn't returned.

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         Edwards spokeswoman Julie Baxter Payer said the governor-elect spoke with Gee before her appointment as health secretary about "her personal stance on abortion."

         "Dr. Gee recognizes that she is being appointed to serve at the pleasure of Gov. John Bel Edwards, who is pro-life, and she is committed to following the law and the governor's directives in all respects," Payer said in a statement.

         The Edwards administration noted that Gee has worked since 2010 for the Department of Health and Hospitals under the administration of Jindal, an abortion opponent. Payer said Gee's "focus has been on preventing the need for any woman to be put in the situation where an abortion becomes a choice offered to her."

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         Clapper described Gee's background as containing "a long history of troubling connections with organizations that advocate for abortion-on-demand."

         Gee was one of three plaintiffs in a 2006 Massachusetts lawsuit against Wal-Mart, seeking to force the retailer to carry emergency contraception pills like Plan B at its stores in the state. The lawsuit was backed by abortion rights groups.

         In addition to the lawsuit, Louisiana Right to Life listed Gee's position as co-chair of a women's health committee for President Barack Obama's transition team; her relationship with the Massachusetts Emergency Contraception Network; a 2003 keynote speech to the National Abortion Rights Action League Pro-Choice Massachusetts meeting; and a 2006 award given to her by an abortion rights group.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte



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